Need to file bankruptcy but don't think you can afford an attorney? Learn how to get free legal help to get your fresh start in Long Beach, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 15, 2020
If your credit card bills and other debts have become so overwhelming that you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, it may seem like affording assistance from a bankruptcy law firm is impossible. Yes, finding a free bankruptcy lawyer is not usually possible unless you work with a legal aid society. Private law offices charge fees to keep their businesses running. However, it’s important to pursue filing bankruptcy (if that’s your best debt relief option) even if you can’t afford legal fees. Chapter 13 filers can repay their legal fees over several years. Most Chapter 7 filers don’t need an attorney’s help with their bankruptcy cases and can successfully file on their own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Of the two kinds of consumer bankruptcy available throughout the United States, Chapter 13 can be filed by virtually anyone, whereas Chapter 7 can only be filed by members of low-income households. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy have some similarities. For example, both types of bankruptcy (if successful) result in a discharge of eligible debt and a fresh financial start. However, Chapter 7 filers can be granted a discharge order in as few as 90 days, while Chapter 13 filers must complete a manageable 3-5 year repayment plan period first.
The quick and straightforward Chapter 7 bankruptcy process doesn’t require an attorney’s help but the famously complex Chapter 13 bankruptcy process does. The primary reason why the Chapter 7 process is so much more straightforward is that the courts recognize that low-income filers aren’t in a position to pay for legal advice. As a result, the courts purposefully keep the process of preparing a Chapter 7 case easy enough that most filers can complete it without paying for legal services.
This isn’t to say that self-filing is the best option for everyone. If you don’t feel capable of filling out legal paperwork on your own for any reason, you can hire a bankruptcy attorney or ask if you’re eligible to receive free or low-cost assistance from a legal aid society. Similarly, if you own real estate other than your house, luxury property, or a small business, you’ll want to consult a lawyer before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Without a lawyer’s help, you could lose some of that valuable property as part of a liquidation requirement.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If your income exceeds the limits outlined in the Chapter 7 Means Test, you won’t be able to file for debt relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Instead, you’ll want to speak with a bankruptcy law firm about filing under Chapter 13 instead. You shouldn’t attempt to prepare a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on your own, as this type of bankruptcy is so complex that most self-prepared cases fail. Thankfully though, you can repay your legal fees as a part of your repayment plan. This makes seeking paid legal advice very manageable for most filers.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Working with a legal aid society may be an option for you, especially if you don’t earn much income. These nonprofit organizations primarily assist low-income members of the community with their legal issues.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Before a legal aid society will accept you as a client, you’ll likely need to go through an eligibility screening based on your income. Legal aid societies are nonprofit organizations and therefore must limit the ways that they use their resources. If you’re accepted as a client, you may be put on a waitlist before you can begin working with a lawyer, if that organization is particularly busy. Once you meet with a staff or licensed volunteer lawyer, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship and begin working on your case in a one-on-one setting.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
If you live below the poverty line or just above it, chances are that you’ll be eligible for free or low-cost legal aid services. For example, you should qualify for assistance with an organization that receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation if your annual household income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line. However, every organization is different and you’ll therefore want to contact any that you’re interested in working with to ask about their specific eligibility criteria.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Phone numbers and additional contact information for civil legal aid societies located in and near Long Beach are listed below. Remember, each organization is different. If you aren’t eligible for services at one location, keep calling the others to see if you qualify for assistance elsewhere.
Bay Area Legal Aid
1735 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612
California Indian Legal Services, Inc.
609 S. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido, CA 92025
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
1430 Franklin Street, Suite 103, Oakland, CA 94612
Central California Legal Services
2115 Kern Street, Suite 1, Fresno, CA 93721
Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
1040 Iowa Avenue, Suite 109, Riverside, CA 92507-2106
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Are you the type of person who likes to “try before you buy” something? You’re going to want to take advantage of a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer. Scheduling an initial consultation with a law firm that offers them for free doesn’t obligate you to work with that firm moving forward. This meeting is simply a way to ask a licensed attorney (not a paralegal) any questions you have about your decision to file bankruptcy and to receive a no-risk, confidential case evaluation.
This process is a lot like scheduling a free credit counseling session with an accredited, nonprofit credit counseling agency. In this scenario, you give a credit counselor details about your financial situation. In turn, they give you a personalized action plan to begin working towards a financial fresh start.
To schedule an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in Long Beach, check out these websites for more information about local consumer bankruptcy law firms in your area:
The California State Bar Association
Los Angeles County bar associations
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Whether or not you meet with an attorney for an initial consultation, if you ultimately choose to prepare your bankruptcy case yourself, you’ll be referred to as a “pro se filer” by the bankruptcy court. If you choose to file pro se (without an attorney’s help) you can achieve this goal more easily and effectively if you take advantage of free online and printed resources related to the Chapter 7 self-filing process.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Reputable self-filing resources can be found on the Upsolve website. Upsolve is a nonprofit organization, funded in part by Harvard University, that seeks (in part) to help low-income Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers prepare their cases successfully. One of the resources that Upsolve provides is a Learning Center educational hub that is accessible to the public at no cost and without a login. Here, you’ll find both general and geographically specific guides to the pro se filing process, answers to pretty much any Chapter 7 bankruptcy question you can think of, and information on non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives. These guides are written by lawyers.
Additionally, the Upsolve website features a free Chapter 7 filing tool. This tool is available to eligible filers of “simple” Chapter 7 cases. The platform allows each filer to access the bankruptcy forms required by the geographically-specific court that will be handling their case. That filer can then fill these forms out in the secure platform, using instructions that are easy to navigate. This tool makes the self-filing process less stressful than it would otherwise be. Please note that joint filings can’t be completed on the tool at this time.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also find printed information about self-filing, preparing for your meeting of creditors, halting wage garnishments, etc. at any local bankruptcy court. When you arrive, ask the clerk where you can find free, printed information about the bankruptcy process and they’ll be able to direct you to it.
Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse
255 East Temple Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
21041 Burbank Boulevard Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse
411 West Fourth Street Santa Ana, CA 92701
3420 Twelfth Street
3420 Twelfth Street Riverside, CA 92501
Jacob Weinberger United States Courthouse
325 West F Street San Diego, CA 92101
Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and United States Courthouse
280 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113
Oakland City Center
1300 Clay Street Oakland, CA 94612
Phillip Burton United States Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102
Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
2500 Tulare Street Fresno, CA 93721
1200 I Street
1200 I Street Modesto, CA 95354
Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
501 I Street Sacramento, CA 95814
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be, under the right circumstances, an opportunity to achieve a fresh start. If you’ve determined that this is the best debt relief option for your financial circumstances, know that you can successfully file your case with or without the help of an attorney. If working with a lawyer best fits your needs, great. If using different resources to file on your own feels doable and can save you some money, great. Both options can get you where you want to be. Simply take a little time to decide which approach will work best for you, uniquely.